Murder, They Built.
Continuing the stand-alone story approach that began in Episode 5, Minecraft: Story Mode: A Portal to Mystery is another successful entry for Telltale Games’ Minecraft series. Where Episode 5 used Ayn Rand’s Atlas, Shrugged as a jumping-off point, Episode 6 is full-on Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie.
After accepting an invitation to an old mansion, four members of The Order of the Stone witness the murder of a fellow guest. Then another and another. As the sun sets on this vast estate, Jesse must solve the mystery of the White Pumpkin murders. Will our heroes live to see the sun rise?
(Spoiler Note: The rest of this review assumes you have played the previous episodes of Minecraft: Story Mode.)
Death in the world of Minecraft means that the recently-deceased transform into resources. (One of the saddest scenes in Story Mode was when Jesse’s pig Ruben died.) The first murder occurs at an over-sized dinner table with everyone assembled. Quickly, everyone notices floating, craftable items like meat. Ew. Will Jesse need them? Does the White Pumpkin?
The other guests, by the way, include real-life YouTube Minecrafters: Captain Sparkles, Stampy Cat, TorqueDawg, and Stacy Plays. Naturally, the first conversation they have with The Order of the Stone concerns how many followers they have.
Upon entering a room filled with paintings sporting their likenesses, Stampy Cat comments that such work is nice “for fanart.” Over time these paintings get X’d out with each person's death à la American Idol. The challenge of having internet celebrities lend their voices mostly pays off, although some line readings can, at times, fall flat.
As expected with a murder mystery, this installment is heavy on dialogue and low on action. As Jesse proclaims to Mr. Stampy that “One of you... is a murderer!”, thunder and lightning occur right on cue. One of the highlights includes a moment where Jesse and Petra get to interrogate the remaining guests. Anyone that’s seen or read a murder mystery will spot the too-big eyeholes in the paintings hanging in this room. Perhaps Jesse will spy on his suspects?
Having a big whodunit as the plot isn’t quite as perfect a fit as the Ayn Rand architect-adventure theme in Episode 5. Part of that was because Order Up! was about building, which is what playing Minecraft is all about, but another factor is that having YouTube stars as the potential killers/victims, while amusing, also means there’s never a moment where we think any members of The Order of the Stone are in any real danger. So, essentially, Jesse, Petra, Ivor, and Lukas are vacationing with their main goal of returning home merely put on hold.
Still, there’s a lot to enjoy. While some genre tropes might be an odd fit, like how a suspicious-looking cat named Winslow purrs like a Bond villain, these tiny moments can bring a smile, regardless of tonal consistency. Ivor as usual gets a lot of the best lines like “White pumpkins? There’s no such thing!”
The boogeyman of Episode 6, The White Pumpkin, is a lanky specter with an altered-voice whose secret lair does not disappoint. His or her use of varied murder weapons ties nicely into the crafting of such items. A poison arrow is par for the course in such a tale, but in Minecraft it also points to a character’s particular skill set. Still, disappointingly, it’s not hard to figure out who this killer is.
The few moments of gameplay focused on crafting and/or running works well enough, though nothing really stands out. By this sixth hour of Telltale’s Minecraft experiment, killing Creepers or Cave Spiders doesn’t deliver much by way of thrilling set pieces. Here, the enjoyment comes from the way the characters react to their situations or comment on the obvious gaming-like aspects like having more than enough blocks of wood to go around.
Only two episodes remain for Telltale’s extended first season. If you’re still playing, you’ve most likely grown attached to the members of The Order of the Stone. These stand-alone stories work; I still laugh at Ivor’s fiendish enthusiasm or Petra’s deadpan humor. I’m hoping the title of Episode 7, Access Denied, means that the episode will be a science fiction-themed tale. And maybe, just maybe, the final episode will be a love story. Whatever Telltale Games has in store, I’m on board.